There are thousands of history-making women to praise, firsts and heroes. We narrowed the parameters to living and relevant, then added legendary..
On March 6, CNN chief foreign correspondent Clarissa Ward, still on the ground in Ukraine, stood among scores of elderly Ukrainians climbing along through metal rubble up a hillside where before there had been a village on the outskirts of Kyiv. Urpin had been under heavy bombardment for seven days straight in what appeared to be direct targeting of evacuees or at least disregard for civilians. Panning back, a bridge filled the lens, destroyed by Ukrainian forces to keep out Russian forces. The people would have to cross it to leave.
Ward, 42, a wife and mother of two young children from London (with an American accent), wore a dark grey military helmet and bullet-proof PRESS vest as she explained the people were “exhausted, barely able to walk, and don’t know where they are going.” Faces showed a migraine of emotions as they passed the Western journalist disrupting her live narrative to offer words of encouragement in Russian, one of seven languages she speaks. Throughout her career, Ward has risked her life in dozens of hot spots this threatening from China and Russia to Iraq, Afghanistan Syria and Africa.
She suddenly stopped reporting to help a stricken woman with her duffel bag of belongings navigate an obstacle ahead, cooing in Russian and stroking the woman’s back as a mother would a child’s. “Excuse me,” she said on camera then momentarily turned away, switching languages to ask the woman her name.
Olena Zalenska, 44, is the First Lady of Ukraine, wife of Volodymyr Zalensky (surnames end differently), the mother of Aleksandra (17) and Cyril (9). She has kept in close contact with the Ukrainian people via Instagram since the Russian invasion began, hiding somewhere in the country with her children and refusing to be evacuated. Zalenska states she will stay with her husband and children, her people. “There will be spring again. There will be Ukraine again.” But on March 6 she posted: “The Russian occupiers are killing Ukrainian children. Consciously and cynically. When people in Russia say that their troops are not hurting the civilian population, show them the faces of these children who weren’t even given a chance to grow up!”
Zalenska and Zalensky met in college where she was studying architecture and he was studying law before both their careers led to the entertainment industry, preceding an unplanned foray into politics. He appeared onstage as a TV comedian and actor; backstage she wrote scripts and comedy that made him famous.
“I prefer staying backstage,” she told Vogue Ukraine in 2019. Fiercely protective of her children’s privacy, she has warmed to the idea of a personal public platform, realizing the voice it gives her to affect causes she cares deeply about, among them women’s rights and children’s development. “Before the war (how scary and still unusual it is to say this), I once wrote that there are 2 million more women than men in Ukraine,” she wrote in the caption, translated from Ukrainian. “Just statistics. But now it is taking on a whole new meaning. Because it means that our current opposition also has a special feminine face.” Hers is leading from behind the scenes.
Michelle Obama (58)is a big gun. “Any time she speaks, it’s never about the ‘what,’ it’s always about the ‘who’ because she doesn’t speak often,” said Bakari Sellers, CNN contributor and author of a new book titled Who Are Your People? Welcoming the New Year in a “loved-up photo” on Instagram with Barack, Michelle wore black short shorts and strappy kitten heels, right before wading into 2022 politics as the leader of a coalition for voter’s rights leading to the midterms —When We All Vote.
One day it was “Happy New Year from me and my boo” and the next, “We’ve got to vote like the future of our democracy depends on it,” a line from a letter published as an ad in the New York Times (January 10). After the filibuster blocked a federal win for voting rights protection on February 19, When We All Vote doubled down on plans to recruit and train at least 100,000 volunteers and register more than a million new voters before the fall deadline.
“Hillary 2024?” Joe Concha of The Hill posed in a headline. “Given the competition, she may be the Dems’ best hope — [crystalizing] the party’s leadership problem. However, as the Democrats’ ‘best hope,’ Hillary pales in comparison to another former first lady, Michelle Obama.”
Dolly Rebecca Parton (76) may be the only subject people the world over agree to agree on. She is the gift that keeps on giving, whether it’s donating $1 million to develop a coronavirus vaccine, sending a memorable message of support to the Ukrainian people at the AMC awards or releasing a new book titled, Run, Rose, Run: A Novel, co-written with bestselling novelist James Patterson. Run is “a thriller about a young singer-songwriter on the rise and on the run, determined to do whatever it takes to survive.” Sounds vaguely familiar.
Parton was born in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee to an illiterate father, “the smartest man I ever knew,” and a Welsh mother who was the mother of 12 and in poor health by age 35 but still managed to care for her large family, keeping house, telling stories and singing ancient Welsh ballads. Dolly was fourth in line, attributing her business sense to her father and musical gifts to her mother.
She was already performing as a child, making an appearance on Grand Ole Opry at 13 where she met Johnny Cash. The day after graduating high school in 1964, she moved to Nashville, initially successful as a songwriter because record labels thought her voice was too high-pitched to sing country. Then Porter Wagoner hired her to replace a performer named Norma Jean on his show in 1967. At first the audience didn’t accept her, loudly chanting for “Norma Jean!” Wagoner coaxed his audience to accept Dolly and convinced RCA to sign her. Her first single was “Just Because I’m a Woman” released in 1968, which is fitting because Dolly never took no guff from no man.